World Hepatitis Day was marked on Sunday and the once incurable disease has been the focus of significant improvement of care, allowing many patients to fully recover.

Under the auspices of the World Health Organization, the day is marked on the anniversary of the birth of Prof.

Barudh Samuel Blumberg, who discovered the Hepatitis C virus – which targets the liver – and was the 1976 Nobel Prize laureate in Physiology or Medicine.

He died in 2011.

Awareness of the virus is prevalent in most countries, as blood and blood products are now routinely screened for Hepatitis C, but some Israelis were infected before screening began. Injected drug use is a common method of transmission of the virus, via shared use of a needle or syringe. Snorting cocaine is also a risk factor, as it can lead to nosebleeds and transmission can occur when equipment contaminated with the virus is used during any procedure where the skin is broken. Other ways include kidney dialysis, acupuncture, tattooing or piercing, improper dental care and hairdressers or barbers. The virus can pass from mother to baby during pregnancy although sexual transmission of Hepatitis C is rare.

The virus causes chronic liver inflammation that is liable to develop into cancer or cirrhosis of the liver, with the most successful treatment being a liver transplant. But with recent breakthroughs in antiviral treatment for the virus, a large share of patients can fully recover.

The WHO is urging governments to act against the five different hepatitis viruses that can cause severe liver infections and lead to 1.4 million deaths every year. Viral hepatitis is referred to as a “silent epidemic” because most people do not realize that they are infected and, over decades, slowly progress to liver disease.

Many countries are only now realizing the magnitude of the disease burden and devising ways to address it.

As a result, the new report notes, 38 percent of countries observe World Hepatitis Day (an annual event that began in 2010) with even more countries marking the day this year.

Although the Health Ministry did not formally participate, a number of medical institutions did, such as Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer.

Prof. Ziv Ben-Ari, the head of the hospital’s liver center, said numerous employees and members of the public underwent tests for the virus with a simple and free blood test.

He said that an estimated 140,000 Israelis have a chronic hepatitis C infection, but most of them are unaware of it.

Effective treatment is available in the basket of health services covered by the health funds.

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger